Owen Laukkanen is a relative newcomer to the thriller genre. Kill Fee, the third book of the series, once again reunites FBI special agent Carla Windermere with Minnesota State police investigator Kirk Stevens.
Fans of crime thrillers will be reminded of best-selling author John Sandford because the setting and the main character’s career path are the same. However, it becomes abundantly obvious that Laukkanen is able to put his own distinctive imprint on his books.
The plot begins when Windermere and Stevens witness an assassination, and are unable to apprehend the fleeing murderer. As other targeted killings occur these two law enforcement officers travel throughout the US to find answers and to catch those responsible. What becomes obvious is that they are always one step behind as they try to put the pieces together including a murder for hire Internet site. They seek to find the person behind turning young war veterans into unemotional killers. Using complete control their handler transforms them into broken human beings who are obedient and lethal.
Laukkanen told blackfive.net, “I had been reading about how the Internet can be used to help build crime empires. I expanded that to having a murder site since it is so easy to hide your identity online. This is one of the issues I dealt with in the book, how these criminals can hide out and avoid detection. I made sure that the bad guy knew how to steal other people’s IP addresses and then bounce them around to make it difficult to detect.”
The readers can readily identify with very realistic characters. The protagonists share varying degrees of dissatisfaction with their personal lives as they struggle to balance that with their job responsibilities. The author weaves the various characters actions together in an intense plot. Even many of the antagonists become sympathetic figures as they struggle with PTSD and to free themselves from the control of this one person who is their lifeline to the world.
In all of his books Laukkanen makes sure to write about societal issues. After researching the emotional state of many returning combat soldiers he decided to include it as a powerful theme in the book. He explained, “I used a DOD clearance to keep the antagonist’s identity secret. I compared this guy who spent his life building bombs to now running a murder for hire. I had him kidnap and take control of the veterans’ lives where there is this bond between the tortured and the torturer. After reading about the vulnerabilities of the veterans as they return home from Iraq and Afghanistan I became struck by how let down they are by the government and society. They are left to deal with their traumas in silence and by themselves since many are uncomfortable to talk about their mental health.”
He also gave a heads up about his next book, which will be about sex trafficking. Two Romanian sisters are brought to the US in containers, but one escapes. Windermere and Stevens attempt to find out the people behind this ring. This plot will also have a struggle between their private and job responsibilities. Laukkanen has Stevens trying to handle how women are treated as commodities and the evilness of men as his daughter begins the dating scene.
Kill Fee has a very riveting plot that includes mayhem and misdirection. It has characters that are very well developed and intriguing. This intense novel is a must read for anyone who enjoys suspenseful thrillers.